Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (3 February): The Supreme Leader's Friday Prayer

Minister of Education Haji Babaei and the Cardboard Imam (see 1741 GMT)

See also Iran Snap Analysis: The Supreme Leader --- Strong Abroad, Weak at Home
Iran Feature: How Tehran's "Islamic Awakening" Lost Its Arab Spring
The Latest from Iran (2 February): Will There Be Protests on 25 Bahman?

1800 GMT: Food Watch. Up to five vessels, out of 10 ships waiting off Iran for up to three weeks with 400,000 tonnes of grain, have now diverted to Qatar, the UAE, and Singapore.

The ships could not or would not off-load their cargoes because of payment difficulties amidst US-led sanctions.

"There is no prohibition on discharging cargoes (in Iran) but they can't because they have not been paid. Some will be trying to find other buyers now," a trade source said.

1753 GMT: Elections Watch. Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman of the Guardian Council, says that a majority of applicants for the 2 March elections for Parliament --- 3000 of 5400 hopefuls --- have now been approved.

1741 GMT: Cardboard Khomeini Watch. A serious follow-up to Thursday's Caption Competition, featuring a military ceremony for a six-foot cardboard Ayatollah Khomeini on the 33rd anniversary of his return to Iran from exile in Paris....

The hard-line (em>Mashregh News says the display was the "apex of bad taste" and criticises Minister of Education Haji Babaei for posing with a photograph with the cardboard star (see top of entry).

1531 GMT: A Shot at Ahmadinejad's Nuke Talks? Earlier today, the Supreme Leader's Friday Prayer may have issued a warning to President Ahmadinejad not to pursue nuclear talks with the US, as Ayatollah Khamenei denounced Barack Obama:

We should not fall for smiles and deceptions of the enemy....The letter the US President wrote to us, and the reply we gave them, one day we'll publicize them so the world will see what they are like.

That speculation is supported by a statement from former Minister of Culture Mohammad-Hossein Saffar Harandi, who jabs at the Government for supporting talks with the US because it believes that "the Arab Spring was inspired" by Washington.

Saffar Harandai warned that some Middle Eastern and North African states have "turned away from Iran" over the initiative --- "unfortunately recent messages from this Arab region say that US caused changes, and the Islamic Republic did not play a big role in Islamic movements" --- while adding that 30,000 American soldiers will die on the first day of a war.

1524 GMT: The Battle Within (cont.). Baztab Emrooz, linked to Mohsen Rezaei, the Secretary of the Expediency Council, has warned of the growing influence in the seminaries of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.


The newspaper claimed that the Ayatollah has split the Imam Khomeini Organisation in Qom and, with his growing desire to interfere in politics, "has become worse after 2009".

The upshot of this is a warning about the Islamic Constancy Front, the faction headed by Mesbah Yazdi that is challenging other conservatives and principlists.

1428 GMT: Intimidation Watch. On Thursday, we noted the latest of Iranian officials pressuring and harassing families of BBC Persian staff, detaining a woman in Tehran to arrange an Internet interrogation of her sister, a BBC journalist, in London. Now BBC Director-General Mark Thompson writes:

In recent months a number of relatives of members of BBC Persian staff have been detained for short periods of time by the Iranian authorities and urged to get their relatives in London to either stop working for the BBC, or to "co-operate" with Iranian intelligence officials.

In other instances, passports of family members have been confiscated, preventing them from leaving Iran. This has left many BBC Persian staff too afraid to return to the country, even to visit sick or elderly relatives. Some have had their Facebook and email accounts hacked.

In addition, there has been a consistent stream of false and slanderous accusations against BBC Persian staff in the official Iranian media, ranging from allegations of serious sexual assault, drug trafficking, and criminal financial behaviour.

It has also included claims that staff have converted from Islam to Christianity or Baha'ism - potentially a capital offence in Iran as it is considered to be apostasy. This has put our staff, who in most cases left their families behind to come to London and work for the BBC, under immense pressure.

1408 GMT: The Battle Within. A series of incidents pointing to the political tension within the regime, passed to up by readers of the Iranian press....

In the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps outlet Javan News, Mohammad Ahmadi has claimed that the "deviant current" around President Ahmadinejad, fearing a Guards mission to detain them, has targeted the IRGC and the Basij militia. Ahmadi urged Ahmadinejad to adhere to his earlier position on the Guards, asking allies not to create problems.

Another report in Javan, citing Neday-e Enqelab, claims the "deviant current", facing with low turnout in the Parliamentary election in March, has set up former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to increase its popularity.

Keyhan editor by Hossein Shariatmadari adds a specific charge: "infiltrators" are responsible for the currency crisis, trying to shift the blame onto "trusted" institutions like the IRGC or the Ministry of Intelligence.

The commentary is just the latest in a series of shots fired across the media, summarised by Muhammad Sahimi. A couple of examples:

Perhaps the most interesting charge from the pro-Ahmadinejad camp was made by Raha Press, which referred to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a "two-headed snake." It accused "M. Z." --- the cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's former deputy representative to the Guards --- of "resigning, like many others, from a specific organ [the Guards] in order to give religious sermons and carry out his main mission, namely, destroying the government, the servant of the nation"....

On Tuesday, Iran [the pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper] accused the hardliners who oppose Ahmadinejad of "forming a group...trying to disrupt the work of the government. If it continues this activity, Dr. Ahmadinejad will be forced to talk about it with the nation." It accused Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar of making statements concerning the Ahmadinejad administration that have undermined national security, and accused the president's opponents of behavior that could lead to his assassination....

In another article, Iran accused Khamenei supporters of trying to control Ahmadinejad. Apparently, the paper was forced to delete certain parts of the item due to "some [national] expediency," because Raha Press published what it claimed to be the complete article, which charged Ahmadinejad's opponents with aiming to stack the next Majles with confrontational deputies, to the extent that "if Ahmadinejad said it is daytime now, they would say no, it is nighttime." The article then accused Ahmadinejad's opponents of likening his supporters to an apple of which half -- the perverted group -- is already rotten, and infesting the other half -- the government itself.

1247 GMT: A picture, among a set on Mehr, of the turnout for Tehran Friday Prayers today:

1237 GMT: Sanctions Watch. According to Kyodo News, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba has said Tokyo may be granted some waivers from US-led sanctions against Iran, indicating that Japan will reduce but not cut Iranian oil imports.

Gemba said "steady progress was made in a good atmosphere" over the issue after a second round of US-Japan talks. The Foreign Minister said, "This time we mentioned a specific number" regarding how much Tokyo is ready to reduce Iranian oil imports, currently about 10% of Japan's needs, and he added that the Japanese Government wants to "conclude the consultations as soon as possible."

"The discussions were held in a cooperative manner and I can say there was progress toward a final agreement," Tsukasa Uemura, deputy director general of the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Washington.

Uemura said his team told U.S. officials that Japanese banks should be exempt from the sanctions, noting that its oil imports from Iran have already been cut by 40% over the past five years and this trend is certain to continue.

Uemura represented the Japanese delegation, while the U.S. side was headed by Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, and Daniel Glaser, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing.

1137 GMT: Sanctions Watch. The Central Banks of UAE and Qatar have told lenders to stop financing trade with Iran, according to bankers.

The Gulf States, especially in Dubai, have been key trading points for Iran. About 8,000 Iranian traders are registered in Dubai, and re-export trade between Iran and the UAE totalled 19.5 billion dirhams ($5.32 billion) in the first half of 2011.

A banker said, "Banks in Dubai were asked by the UAE central bank to stop issuing letters of credit to finance trade with Iran. Before the sanctions, the central bank regularly checked on trading with Iran and wanted to know of all dealings between the two countries. Banks can't do this anymore."

Qatar's central bank also recently told banks to stop providing credit for Iranian trade, according to a senior Doha-based banker.

1135 GMT: Not-So-All-Is-Well Alert. An official in the Ministry of Housing has said that prices have risen by 15-20% after subsidy cuts.

An EA correspondent notes that another 10-20% can be added amidst the currency crisis, with people trying to put assets in property.

1131 GMT: CyberWatch. Etedaal reports that the Supreme Leader's website has been blocked in Saudi Arabia after it carried a report on this week's Islamic Awakening Youth Conference in Tehran.

1128 GMT: Currency Watch. Mohammad Reza Naderi of Iran's Customs Office has said that the export of gold coins and foreign exchange is now prohibited. Only 150 grammes of gold and jewelry for women may be taken out of the country.

1120 GMT: Elections Watch. Khabar Online reports that prominent reformist candidates for Tehran's Parliamentary seats have not yet been approved.

The candidates include Alireza Mahjoub, Soheila Jelodarzadeh, Elaheh Rastgou, and Mostafa Kavakebian, who supposedly was going to lead a "Democracy Front" of reformists and allies in the campaign.

Khabar also notes that the supposed coalition including reformists and the Mardomsolari Party has not present candidates in any districts and will not appear with a complete list in Tehran.

1110 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Six more Iranians have reportedly been abducted near Idlib in northwest Syria, bringing the total in the last two months to 35.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry, Hamid Reza Shakeri Niyasar, has called on Iranians to refrain from making individual pilgrimages to Syria, travelling instead as part of tours supervised by Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization.

1035 GMT: We have now posted a special snap analysis of the Supreme Leader and his Friday Prayer, "Strong Abroad, Weak at Home".

1005 GMT: The Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader is summarising his speech --- now nearing two hours --- with a particular reference to resistance against Israel, "a religious duty" but not "terrorism".

And that is pretty much the closing line.

0951 GMT: The Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader continues the lecture in Arabic to Egyptians and those in other countries: "Believe only in God...Confront outside threats...and Western fascism....Protect social rights....Remain true to Islamism." He reasserts that "Israel will be destroyed".

And then this modification of his line from last year of the Islamic Revolution as a model for the uprisings: Khamenei says the West will present people with a choice between "secular Islam" and "extreme, violent Islam". and it is necessary to reject these for "moderate Islam".

Doing so, Khamenei not only advises people to reject the West but to reject Salafists in countries like Egypt. That in turn is effective support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

An EA correspondent notes, "Paraphrase: Choose our version of Islamic government, not the liberal version, like Turkey."

0943 GMT: The Friday Prayer. An important note from Iran News Now, as the Supreme Leader --- to some reaction from the crowd --- talks about the ascendancy of Islamists in Egypt, "Khamenei, speaking about Egypt in Arabic, is almost addressing Egyptians directly."

This is backed up by Ayatollah Khamenei's Twitter account, "Isn't it true that youths protested in Washington, London, Madrid, Rome & Athens, with Tahrir in mind as their model?"

0940 GMT: The Friday Prayer. Still the Arab Spring --- nothing of significance, and no reactions from the crowd.

0924 GMT: The Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader is back to standard rhetoric about the "Arab Spring" --- looks like he is past the most interesting parts of the speech.

0910 GMT: The Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader, somewhat rushed --- "I have to wrap up" --- turns to March's Parlaimentary elections on 2 March: "The more the turnout is, the more your credit and power...and immunity there will be for the people and the country." This will rebuff the "enemy", who is trying to make the people lose hope and "trying to show crisis" in "this peaceful and tranquil country".

Once again, the Supreme Leader warns against the "blame game" amidst officials and candidates.

And then a very interesting moment: the Supreme Leader says that in the Islamic Republic's "32-33 years", all of its elections have been "sound and healthy". He makes a fumbling reference to "investigations" which have established this, before defending the authority of the Guardian Council, which oversees the elections and can ban candidates. "This is the law and we need to abide by that; when the Guardian Council makes a decision, we need to surrender and follow suit."

The Supreme Leader seems to be hedging against the Council's rejection of candidates, some of whom could be quite prominent: "This does not mean he is unqualified. This should not be the end of the world for him. There are other ways he can serve...He should be aware of the plots of the enemy."

Ayatollah Khamenei repeats that any rejected candidate and his/her supporters should be aware of the schemes of the enemy and not fall prey to disappointment.

A really curious passage that deserves more attention....

0904 GMT: The Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader is in the midst of a long passage on Iran's defiance of sanctions. More interesting is this section from earlier, picked up by Iran News Now:

We should not fall for smiles and deceptions of the enemy....Sometimes the smile and some of us fell for it. The letter the US President wrote to us, and the reply we gave them, one day we'll publicize them so the world will see what they are like.

And just now he warns, "Any war that is waged will be 10 times detrimental to the US."

0859 GMT: Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader looks at the US, where the authorities "feel weak" but do want to admit it --- he sees more than four months of protests, even in the cold, defying the massed forces of police.

Europe, he says, also feels weak with its economic problems.

0852 GMT: Friday Prayer --- Arab Spring Passage. The Supreme Leader moves to his section on the Middle East and North Africa, framing uprisings as victories led by Islamists, setting back the US and Israeli schemes for the region.

He continues, to loud affirmation from the crowd, that Zionism is a "cancerous tumour" which will be removed from the region.

And an interesting note: the Supreme Leader denies interference in Bahrain although, "if we wanted to interfere, we would split them". He then cites the defeat of Israel in Lebanon in 2006, bringing the loudest chants so far from the audience.

Ayatollah Khamenei declares, "Any group in the world who wants to fight the Zionist regime, we will support them."

0847 GMT: Friday Prayer. An interesting passage, as the Supreme Leader says officials should be responsible to people and not play the "blame game" with each other. He assures that if there is a problem, he will deal with it --- "If something is wrong, and the Leader [himself] is responsible, then the leader will admit that" --- and continues:

We need to preserve our unity of word and mind. The three powers of Government need to stand united....Differences of opinion will be there, but they need to support each other and move forward.

0841 GMT: Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader sets out the line on Iran's nuclear programme --- Tehran turned to peaceful development when other powers denied it the material that it needed.

Then he finally cites a weakness: Iranians must not be prone to "materialism" and "consume too much" --- "When there is a rumour of a shortage, people run to accumulate the item, even if that is not a basic item."

The second weakness is that Iranians need to "purify their souls".

0836 GMT: Friday Prayer. After a long passage on Iran's achievements in science, engineering, and technology, the Supreme Leader proclaims the strength of the "second" and "third" generations in adhering to the values of the Islamic Revolution.

To make his point, he dwells on the recent assassinations of two Iranian scientists, both reportedly involved in Tehran's nuclear programme.

0828 GMT: Friday Prayer. First interesting turn in the sermon --- the Supreme Leader says there is a need to identify "weaknesses" as well as "strengths" in the Islamic Revolution, even if the movement has never stopped.

But before he mentions any weakness, he talks about the strength of resisting foreign powers who tried to halt the Revolution --- that brings the second reaction of the morning from the crowd.

0825 GMT: Friday Prayer. The Supreme Leader's declaration of the "self-confidence" that Iranians found after 1979, leading to their "achievements", gets the first loud response from the crowd.

0820 GMT: Back to the Show. The Supreme Leader sets out his three themes: 1) the success of the Islamic Revolution; 2) the developments in the Middle East; 3) Iran's forthcoming Parliamentary elections.

0818 GMT: Before the Show. Nothing of significance from the Supreme Leader so far, so we take note of the regime's display before his sermon:

Iran on Friday launched an observation satellite into orbit above Earth, its third since 2009, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The Navid satellite was launched successfully . . . . It will be placed into an orbit (at an altitude) between 250 and 370 kilometres," IRNA quoted the head of Iran's Space Organization, Hamid Fazeli, as saying.

The 50-kilogram satellite is meant to stay in orbit for 18 months, sending back images to Iran as it completes a revolution of Earth every 90 minutes. It was unveiled two years ago and its launch had long been expected.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led the launch ceremony, media said.

"It's the beginning of an immense labour . . . which holds the promise of friendship for all mankind," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

0815 GMT: Showtime. The Supreme Leader is now delivering his Friday Prayer in Tehran, calling for "piety" in the 10-day "dawn" before the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

0807 GMT: War Watch. There is lots of chatter in international media about the prospect of Israeli military action against Tehran, but the most striking claim, from Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service, is of a pullback from conflict:

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.

Dempsey's warning, conveyed to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, represents the strongest move yet by President Barack Obama to deter an Israeli attack and ensure that the United States is not caught up in a regional conflagration with Iran.

Still, pressure and propaganda continue for aggressive action. "Diplomats", using The Wall Street Journal, have tried to undermine the report of an International Atomic Energy Agency team that it had "good talks" in Tehran this week: "Iran denied United Nations inspectors access to a suspected nuclear site, scientists and documents during a visit to Tehran this week, dimming already scant hopes for a breakthrough to end a standoff over Iran's nuclear work."

0733 GMT: Better Late than Never? Soulat Mortazavi, the head of Iran's Election Commission, has assured that all ballot boxes in March's Parliamentary contests will be provided with security systems to prevent vote rigging.

0726 GMT: Mourning and Defiance. Rah-e Sabz writes that a large crowd attended the 7th-day ceremony of the death of Grand Ayatullah Sane'i’s wife, even though the regime tried to limit participation.

Those attending included representatives of most senior clerics, the family of the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, journalist Emaduddin Baghi, and relatives of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

0723 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Kalemeh reports that, after the abduction of 29 Iranians in the last two months, including 22 pilgrims, officials have banned overland travel to Syria.

0705 GMT: A Request to the Supreme Leader. Rah-e Sabz reports that veterans of the Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq War have written to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him to change his attitude and policies towards the people and the Ahmadinejad Government: "The most important expectation of people is to respect their status and opinion. Consequently, before it is too late, return to the people and be sure that the army, plainclothes [forces], and flattering people will not be able to save you."

There is also an implicit challenge in the Jomhoori Islami newspaper, close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, as it publishes an interview with Abulghasem Sarhadi Zadeh, former political prisoner in the era of the Shah and later Minister of Employment and Social Affairs.

Sarhadi Zadeh asserted, "One of the biggest issues of our Revolution is that it ate its children." Assessing the current situation, he said that he never thought that a Revolution is based on the Qur'an and Islam would lose its followers and forget about justice and freedom. He noted that the Shah's regime was destroyed because it ignored these issues.

Hojatoleslam Ghazi Asgar, the Supreme Leader's representative for Hajj affairs, has re-assured that Ayatollah Khamenei does not want to rule the world but to save the people."

0700 GMT: Economy Watch. Majid Ansari, a member of the Expediency Council, has declared, "Today’s economic problems are more due to the Government's weak actions and plans than they are to sanctions."

Ansari said current policies will just make the situation worse and added that, if Parliament had taken firm action on the Government, Iran would not be in its crisis.

0630 GMT: A straightforward start for Live Coverage today --- we will be watching the Tehran Friday Prayer delivered by the Supreme Leader this morning. Just like last year, Ayatollah Khamenei will be delivering the sermon for Fajr, the 10-day "dawn" before the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

I am expecting the standard rhetoric of defiance and triumph, laced with the warnings that Iran must remain vigilant against the threat of aggressor without and the seditious within --- in contrast, do not expect much on the internal tensions and economic situation. At the same time, we have noted the concern in the Supreme Leader's recent statements, for example, over Syria, and one EA correspondent has observed that Ayatollah Khamenei has looked tired and drawn in recent appearances.

And, perhaps just as importantly, we will be watching the turnout and spirit of the crowd in Tehran today. Will there be mass enthusiasm and defiance to match that of the Supreme Leader? Or will we see signs that the economic problems and political fighting have taken their toll on morale?

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